THE CHAIRMAN of England’s biggest rural Local Enterprise Partnership has said it aims to create a ‘rural powerhouse’ in contrast to many of its city-focused counterparts.
David Kerfoot, who chairs the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) for York, North Yorkshire and the East Riding, spoke out after the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) accused England’s business-led partnerships of failing countryside communities by ignoring their economic potential and social and environmental needs.
Mr Kerfoot said: “Whilst many LEPs may have a focus on cities, as the largest rural LEP, our focus is firmly on our agenda to build recognition of the York, North Yorkshire and East Riding areas as a rural powerhouse.”
He said with the area boasting “every type of farming from arable to upland, global innovation assets and great agricultural colleges”, they were well-placed to help farmers and rural communities boost their long term sustainability.
Research by the CPRE showed the business-led partnerships, set up across England in 2011 to replace regional development agencies, are failing to win over rural communities.
Just one in five LEPs were perceived as aiding the development of affordable rural housing, the research found, with 14 per cent seen to be addressing or improving rural transport.
However, city-based LEPs have refuted the claim that they are overlooking their rural surroundings.
In the Sheffield City Region, bosses said they were providing support to many rural businesses, including a £2.8m investment in the Peak Resort project near the Peak District National Park.
The planned £400m year-round tourist, leisure and education destination near Chesterfield is set to create more than 400 jobs.
The investment, through the Local Growth Fund, is being used to facilitate initial site infrastructure works, including a new access, footpath and bridleway diversions, and a secure boundary.
They also said they worked closely with many rural businesses in the food and drink sector in the Peak District, providing help for well-known names such as Thornbridge Brewery, Holdsworth Chocolates, the world-famous Bloomers of Bakewell, the Bakewell pudding shop, and the School of Artisan Food at Welbeck, near Worksop.
David Grimes, head of the Sheffield City Region LEP’s business support service, the Growth Hub, said: “Wherever you are in the Sheffield City Region you will have the same access to the same level of support, as we are working with a wide range of partners.
“We have hundreds of exciting small rural businesses in this region, and they have lots of talent and fresh ideas.”
A spokesman for the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership had already outlined its commitment to investing in transport, skills, housing and business support to create growth in all communities.
And a spokesman for the LEP Network, which represents the partnerships, said: “LEPs are focussed on driving up economic growth across all areas of England – a critical element of the Industrial Strategy is that every area of the country is able to realise its full potential. There are specific challenges in driving growth in rural areas and LEPs are acutely aware of how vital it is that all areas benefit from economic growth, and none more so than rural economies.
“LEPs have initiated a raft of programmes to help boost rural economies.”